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October 5, 2005

your taxicab zone map sucks

Jimbo's Sample_Zone_Map1.jpg
I'm all for the metered fare change with DC taxicabs. I was over the whole zone system a long time ago. Try reading that crappy map in the back of a dark taxicab when the car is rumbling over potholes and you're drunk and trying to hold back a wave of vomit. I spent a mere half hour making some improvements to the confusing map based on some very basic tenets of graphic design and Geography 101. Maybe if these issues were taken care of a long time ago, people wouldn't be so upset about the zone system. I can tell you I have been ripped off by more than one unsavory cab driver who can easily take advantage of the arcane zone rules and confusing map. PDF Version of my map.

- Let's start with the orientation of the map. How many DC maps have North pointing 45% to the left? Not the map of the MetroRail system. Not the map of DC on the DC government website. In fact, most maps orient North at the top of the page, and South at the bottom. That's what people are accustomed to. Why does the DC Taxicab Commission feel that it's an exception to this rule? Let's not skew the map for convenience here and tilt it the right way. And who cares if Bethesda is cut out of the map. If they're from Bethesda they probably don't need to take a cab, and probably aren't worried about zone fare differences if they did.

- Once it's tilted the right way I can now orient myself as to where I live and I can easily see what the delineations are between zones without tilting my head 45% to the left. Isn't that nice? If I had more time I would orient all street names and zone numbers the same way, and would make the font size bigger for those with impaired vision. Again, this map should be made for those who are viewing it, which include drunk and illiterate people, and strangers from out of town. The current map is designed by and for bureaucrats.

- The pastel colors serve no purpose on this map, unless you intend to show that water is blue and the DuPont Circle area is pink. Colors are also useless in the back of a taxicab at night - they all blend together in shades of grey when you are viewing the map at night. Colors are useless to the colorblind as well. 1/5 of all males are color blind. Keep it black and white, with no greys. The obvious borders between zones negate the need to delineate the zones by color.

Of course, this won't help me evacuate DC by cab when the Federal Government doesn't tell the DC government that there is a dangerous bacteria on the National Mall until a week has passed. The bacteria was first detected last weekend during the Pro/Anti War Rallies, but the local city government was not formally informed. Again, in the event of an actual disaster, we are fucked.

Posted by jimbo at October 5, 2005 10:52 AM


You're on the right track, but you ran into the same problems that probably resulted in the decision to not orient the map to the north in the first place. By turning it north, you have not just cut out Bethesda (which truly will not be missed) but you have also cut out large chunks of the District itself, including far southwest and upper northwest... In order to include those areas you would have to reduce the size such that it would be even harder to read. End result: One more reason to move to meters.

However, I don't think you've lived here long enough to know that this is about 600th time a test of meters in cabs has been announced... only to fade away without any movement forward..... We'll be taking the Metro to Tyson's before DC cabs are metered...

Posted by: ZZ at October 5, 2005 12:05 PM

And what's with this recessive gasoline surcharge? If I am late for work and hop in a cab to cross only half of Zone 1, that $1.50 is a windfall to the driver and/or cab company (not to mention the rush hour surcharge). It's not like I'm going to the airport, where the extra $1.50 is a much smaller proportion of the fare.

Look to the great city of New York, where cab fares make sense.

Posted by: Boo Augustus at October 5, 2005 12:10 PM

Yet, DC also has a screwy Metro system. You have to look at the board to see where you are going and how much its going to cost you. Okay I can go from DC to Arlington, but if I go one more stop it's another .15-.20 cents.........Portland's system is awesome. There are three zones and you pay according to zone. So I can go from my house to the zoo(on the opposite side of the city) for the low fare of $1.50.

Again one of the thinks I don't miss about DC.

Posted by: TonkaManOR at October 5, 2005 12:20 PM

Ha! I have been a strong supporter of the zone system...mostly because I can pimp it out to the max (Capitol Hill to the 18th & U Duplex Diner? One zone as long as I get out on the correct side of U Street!).

However, with fare hikes, and fuel surcharges, a one-zone trip went from a flat $5 to $7. Maybe its time for the change to meters.

Posted by: John at October 5, 2005 1:24 PM

Feh. I memorized that map years ago. I'm never one to stand on the north side of U Street when I'm travelling inside zone 1, thereby only paying for one zone. No matter how inebriated or not, I always know the exact amount it should be, and any cabbie who tries to screw me will find himself with less of a tip.

Meters are great for the cab drivers: they'll screw you on distance, they'll screw the tourists (harder), and they'll screw you by driving like the slow boat to China in rush hour traffic. It may be a hair raising ride, but at least you get there much faster. I have yet to see a metered system that wasn't abused to no end.

Besides it's being pushed by Williams, who also wants to limit the number of cabs (thereby pushing up the prices artificially), not so hot for the idea. It'll never happen.

I agree though, the orientation is off, but that's because when drunk and piling in, you're leaning that way anyway. Bethesda's not in DC, so it shouldn't be on the map. Now if they would get rid of the multiple pickups "on the way", I'd be happier.

Posted by: copperred at October 5, 2005 3:01 PM

The NYC subway and taxi maps ALL disorient the map of Manhattan, pointing the island straight up, at a 6:00 position, when in fact it's more like a 3:50 orientation. This bothers me, even though it has no effect on costs.

(These same maps also reduce the size of Staten Island by almost 3 times its actual size, so that it fits on the maps.)

Posted by: Joe.My.God. at October 5, 2005 3:43 PM

I appreciate the northern orientation on your modification. It's stupid that it's not. If you need to make the map bigger, make it bigger, but don't pretend it's not confusing as hell to tilt it at a 45 degree angle.

I think you should get a discount if you have a pickup along the way. Especially when they take you out of your way and get dropped off before you.

Posted by: chrisafer at October 5, 2005 4:24 PM

The maps suck, but the zone system rocks. You always know what a trip will cost. If you live in DC, why wouldn't you know how much it is from places you go a lot to your home? And you can go to city web site, type in 2 addresses, and voila - it tells you the fare.

Having been on overly-long rides with extra $$ in taxis in unfamiliar cities, I loved the zone system when I lived in DC.

I'm always amazed when a DC resident complains that they get charged different prices for the same trip. The first time that happened, why wouldn't you look it up, so you can tell the driver, "Sorry, that's not right?"

Posted by: John at October 5, 2005 5:10 PM

John: I'm speaking for the drunks with no negotiation skills here. Haven't you found yourself having to take a cab home from a location you hadn't planned on being, such as after a bar crawl with friends? There's no opportunity to plan on such things, and all I'm asking is that a map be readable and user-friendly in such situations. I explained that in the entry.

Posted by: jimbo at October 5, 2005 5:42 PM

1. I'm shocked there's something about DC John likes. ;) And John, most people seem to not be able to speak up for themselves. Really, more's the pity for them.

2. If you're that drunk and can't negotiate, you're not going to be able to realize when the cab is taking you a circuitous route anyway (with a meter), so you'll pay more.

3. The zone system creates an incentive for there to be more cabs than an equivalent city would support, and more downtown. I've never in DC, had to wait more than 7 mins for a cab. Try that in any city besides NYC.

Posted by: copperred at October 5, 2005 6:52 PM

The best thing about zones is they are not time dependent. You can sit in a traffic jam all day, but if you just cross one zone line...thats all you pay. With meters you pay for time as well as distance. Every system has its pluses and minuses ofcourse.

Posted by: GURL at October 5, 2005 9:36 PM

The zone system is great... it took me about 5 years to figure out the map but I finally did and have it memorized... but as soon as you have to go to VA or MD you are screwed. I have become a really good haggler over the years and can get good fares usually, but there is no rhyme or reason for fares outside of the District. And I can't figure out why, in 2005, we can't use credit cards in cabs like we can at Starbucks and/or McDonald's... Other countries do it and it works great.

I kind of like London's system of "Black Cabs" that are expensive, yet solidly reliable for tourists, and the "Mini Cabs" for those of us who want to live a bit on the edge. :)

Posted by: Tom at October 6, 2005 11:00 AM

Your map is easier to read. Simple black and white is always the way to go in regards to map reading.

I would be even happy also if Cab drivers had the ability to speak English.

Posted by: Dax at October 6, 2005 11:18 AM

I had to explain the systems as it was to someone today and I confused myself and I've been riding in them for years?! Nowadays it has become "just make up a price and then some BS surcharges" and hope the sucker pays it.

Last week I took a cab to my Dutch class and not only did I almost puke from the fumes and the driving but the cabbie actually scared me to the point I almost called the police. His cab's transmission was all messed up, he was "chirping" and "ticking" as we drove and he almost ran over the curb and into the Belgian Embassy's fence - the guard out front did NOT look happy... On days like that I think I'd rather take the Metrobus (which is another story!)

Posted by: TOS at October 6, 2005 5:42 PM

I can't stand the cab system in this city. It's a total rip. Total. And you are so right about the maps. The design is useless. It's really criminal of the city to allow this shameless operation to continue.

Posted by: kob at October 6, 2005 8:23 PM

this post was great!

Posted by: erika at October 6, 2005 10:24 PM

This shit has been the bane of my existence in this city. I've gotten to the point where I am so frustrated at being ripped off that I get irate. Why is it that the cost of a trip to georgetown changes every single time, even if you are leaving from the same exact place every single time?? The other week, I was so annoyed, when a cab driver taking me from the convention center to union station, didn't take a direct route and instead went all the way around, that I just said f*ck it and told him to let me out (of course after going 2 blocks I owed him $7), but I didn't pay, I hopped out and ran down the street. Drunk and annoyed doesn't go very well.

Anyway, Great post!

Posted by: Heather B. at October 7, 2005 9:45 AM

Thanks! And let's hope this is obsolete very soon.

Posted by: Christian at October 8, 2005 3:02 PM